A palliative care dilemma on the first day of the job It was my first day at my new job, practicing a new specialty. Having spent fourteen years as an ICU physician -- including a four-year pulmonary/critical-care fellowship in this very hospital -- I had just completed a palliative care fellowship. Now I was the hospital's palliative care consult attending. When I set eyes on the patient in room 1407, my first thought ...

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“All your patients will die. Maybe not today, but someday.  The defining fact of life is that it ends.  Only a fool would dedicate their career to fighting something that can never be beaten.  Therefore, a doctor’s task cannot be to fight death.  A doctor’s task is to heal when possible and prevent suffering always. Our calling is to support life. Fighting death may deprive patients of the opportunity to ...

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If I were punched by an unknown man in an elevator there would be little doubt that my assailant would be prosecuted. If the trauma were enough to cause me to lose consciousness, meaning I suffered brain trauma, my attacker would likely be charged with aggravated assault. No one would be surprised if he received jail time. No one would think twice if he lost his job. However, if I ...

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The case A thirty-five-year-old female presents to the emergency department on a weekend afternoon with the following chief complaint: "I want to give up custody of my son." The patient is well dressed -- and so is her four-year-old son, who is sitting comfortably on the bed playing a video game on his mother’s cell phone. According to the patient, she is a single mother with no support system. Her son’s father deserted ...

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As a recently retired physician, I still maintain an interest in medical research, though I have to ask myself: Why? Surely not just from the point of view of a potential future patient. But not from the point of view of a practicing physician either. Perhaps I keep up just from a lifetime of habit?  Or is there something I miss about my old job? These thoughts came to mind as ...

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The astronauts are halfway to Mars when suddenly one of them develops abdominal pain and requires surgery. What will they do? According to NASA, a miniature robot capable of assisting in surgery has been developed, tested in pigs, and is soon to be trialed in a weightless environment. The robot, which weighs less than 1 pound, can be inserted into the abdomen via the umbilicus and controlled remotely. The press release from ...

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Let’s talk about expectations. And I’m talking the Dickens’ kind. When you watch television, the food flaunts itself before you. Tempting you with golden buns and perfectly placed pickles. The models eating those perfectly styled burgers are the same -- airbrushed to perfection. Most often, limbs are stretched to unrealistic proportions and curves are molded and erased to fit someone’s view of beauty. When someone first takes the baby steps to venture into ...

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In a study in the American Journal of Infection Control, researchers coated a gloved hand in E. coli.  One person with the E. coli glove then they shook hands, high-fived, and fist bumped another person with a sterile glove.  Transfer of E. coli to the sterile glove was measured. Results:

  • highest transfer of bacteria: handshake
  • lowest transfer of bacteria: fist bump (high five was in the middle)
  • difference: fist bump less than 10% of ...

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I have a patient who is a full blown sufferer of health anxiety. He firmly believes he has full-blown AIDS after a single extramarital sexual contact (non-genital) one month prior with a woman not known to have HIV. (Reality check: The other person didn’t have HIV, the specific contact as described was ridiculously unlikely to have transmitted the virus had it been present, and AIDS takes months to years to develop ...

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Patient appreciation: Why I still love being a doctor Judging from recent articlessurveys, and blog posts, the medical profession is remarkably demoralized. Typical complaints range from “feeling like a beaten dog” to “living in humiliating servitude,” to being forced to practice “treadmill medicine.” Interestingly, the public response to these complaints is largely indifferent. The prevailing attitude (if the comments sections of online articles and blog posts are representative) seems ...

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